It’s that time of year, where all shops and adverts will push on you is the usual Christmas fare, you most certainly know it’s Christmas time when you hear that famous fizzy drink advert that will drive you crazy for months.
Mince pies, Panettone, advent calendars, gingerbread and the more traditional Christmas cake, decorated beautifully with an assortment of marzipans, icings and decorative splashes to please the eye.
If you dislike fruit, you are usually not going to be the best pleased at this time of year, but there’s always an alternative available and if baking for yourself, a Yule log doesn’t look out of place at the festive table for the chocoholics amongst us.
Some Brits are fond of over feeding at Christmas and make the cake simply for the sheer joy of it, even if the entire family might be tucking in through to the new year.
The Christmas cake as we know it is said to have come from not one, but two Christian feast days: Twelfth Night and Easter. Wealthier families in the sixteenth century would make their Christmas puddings for the big day, often saving back some of the mixture with the addition of flour and eggs to bake and eat at Easter.
The families would enjoy this Easter treat so much that it would later on be dropped from the Easter menu and made for Christmas instead. Marzipan and royal icing would come much later, as what many people may not know nowadays is that the last day of Christmas (Twelfth Night) used to be the day to celebrate with a Twelfth Night cake in the 1640’s that contained almonds and was covered in marzipan.
This cake was actually banned by a real life Scrooge, Oliver Cromwell, The Lord Protector of England who complained that there was too much excess and so demanded a stop to such indulgences, even the mince pie was banned for some time. Christmas Day remained as a public holiday and some feasting was still allowed, so people started to make their festive cake and cover in marzipan instead, and so the Christmas cake was born.
There is a division when it comes to the marzipan and royal icing, some even make a dry fruit cake and serve it with Wensleydale or a rich Cheddar cheese instead, there are so many delicious ways of enjoying your favoured creation.
With so many unusual cakes on offer nationwide, it can be so easy to reach for your nearest supermarket shelf, but baking your own Christmas cake can be a cost effective and relaxing task in itself and really helps you to get into the party mood, so why not give this recipe a go or adapt it to your own tastes?
Try to bake 4-6 weeks in advance where possible to allow your Christmas cake to mature and take on a deliciously strong flavour as you soak it, should you decide to do this with a little of your favourite tipple.
The ideal tin for this cake will be an 8″/20cm round cake tin, lined inside and also tall around the outside with brown paper and held by string.
The inside layer will allow you to feed your cake “mess free” over the build up to your grand unveiling!
I used Licor 43® in my cake, which is a vanilla liqueur, but any of your favourite tipple is good, my lovely friend, Lynn Hill of The Clandestine Cake uses Amaretto in hers, or you could try the more unusual and go for a Cranberry & Spiced Apple Bundt cake a la Dolly Bakes… go nuts and get creative!
I used my new trusty Kenwood Titanium to make easy work of this dense cake mix, however, if you don’t have a mixer, a wooden spoon and plenty of candy cane-fuelled elbow grease will do the job just as fine!
For the pre-soaking:
4 tablespoons of Licor 43® (or another liqueur of your choice)
4 tablespoons cherry brandy
4 tablespoons port
3 tablespoons water
Zest of a lemon
1 level teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 level teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
1 level teaspoon soft dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
50g glacé cherries, washed & quartered
50g mixed chopped nuts
For the cake:
250g self-raising flour
250g dark soft brown sugar
250g unsalted butter
5 large eggs
5- 7 days before you want to make your cake, measure out all the pre-soaking ingredients into a large saucepan, ensuring that you mix them evenly after each addition to get everything perfectly coated.
Place your mixture over a medium heat, bring it up to simmering point, don’t allow to boil, giving everything a good stir as you go. Turn down the heat to the lowest setting and allow everything to gently simmer without covering for 15 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and let everything cool completely, before transferring to an airtight plastic container.
Leave in the fridge for 5-7 days, giving it a shake or a stir from time to time to mix.
When you are ready to bake your cake, pre-heat the oven to 140°C, gas mark 1. Start by sifting the flour into a large metal bowl, adding the sugar, butter and eggs and, using an electric hand whisk (or if you want amazing muscles, a wooden spoon), beat until thoroughly combined.
Then gradually fold in the soaked fruit and spice mixture until evenly distributed. Transfer the cake mix to your prepared tin, and level off with a back of a spoon or spatula. Place the cake in the centre of the oven and bake for 3 hours, then cover with a double thickness of baking parchment, resting it over the top of your cake and bake for a further hour, until the centre feels springy and a cake skewer comes out clean.
Allow to cool in tin for an hour, then transfer it to a wire rack to cool – don’t remove the cake straight from the oven or it may well break apart as you attempt to remove it. When it’s perfectly cooled, wrap in parchment-lined foil or baking paper and store in an airtight tin or Tupperware box, feeding a little dribble of your favourite booze each week, should you wish to top it up, although not mandatory.
Cover with a decoration of your choice or enjoy simply as it is with a slab of top quality cheese and a glass of sherry…
If you are feeling festive, why not have a read of my “Lost Art Of Etiquette: Modern Manners Advent” countdown for a chuckle?…
Or if you are eager to try another recipe, why not take a look at my delicious Banana & Melting Chocolate Streusel cake? It’s the perfect winter warmer for a New Years’ Eve Tea.. Should you need an excuse!
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